Batman: A Telltale Series – Episode 1 Review

Batman-StoryThe Dark Knight has had a bit of a purple patch of late when it comes to his portrayal in video games. Rocksteady’s Arkham series is sure to be the benchmark for superhero titles; though largely original, a lot of their sub plots were inspired by the existing, acclaimed stories from the DC universe. The lords of interactive storytelling, Telltale Games, enter the fray with their own original take on Bruce Wayne, the man behind the mask.

The first episode, Realm of Shadows, is a timid introduction of sorts, and places us in the finest fitting Italian loafers of Bruce Wayne for a large majority of proceedings, as we get a glimpse into the tortured psyche of a man carrying a city’s hopes on his breaking back. It’s a story of family legacy, corruption, espionage and politics. The few instances you don the suit are memorable, though it’s some of Bruce’s exchanges with the likes of Carmine Falcone, or Selina Kyle even, that create some of the trademark tension that underpins Telltale’s best works.Batman-2A lot of the episode’s dialogue is a touch on the nose, but if you’re expecting a fairly tame outing that shies away from violence you couldn’t be more wrong. The episode opens up with a guard being shot square in the face; the remainder of the episode’s action, as infrequent as it can be, is similarly ultra violent, should you opt for your Batman to deal out a harsh brand of justice. So expect the series to be rather adult-oriented.

As far as breaking new ground, Realm of Shadows doesn’t do a whole lot, instead opting to use the first episode to lay down a lot of the foundations for what is to come. It’s hard to deduce who’ll be the series’ big bad guy at this stage. If a subplot involving one of Bruce’s returning childhood chums unfolds as expected, that’ll certainly leave the Bat’s plate half full. It’s all wide open at this stage, and I do look forward to seeing where Telltale take their interpretation.Batman-PresentationTelltale’s now typical cel-shaded aesthetic has been much maligned in the past, only ever looking so-so while suffering from terrible performance issues. Fortunately, their new engine holds up a whole lot better with Batman running as smooth as you could hope for. The odd stutter rears its head, but it’s such a rarity I don’t consider it an issue; it hardly chugs like that slideshow they called Game of Thrones.

And with Batman’s obvious comic book roots, the cel-shaded look is a perfect match for the subject matter. It doesn’t go one hundred into camp territory, throwing “pow” bubbles over fight scenes, but it’s super neat to see Gotham, as it appears on page, in motion.Batman-1All of the big players look as you’d expect, although I don’t know what they’ve done with Harvey Dent’s chin and neck; he’s a whole lot more jacked than I expected. He looks like a snake that’s swallowed a lunchbox. But Bruce is as sharply dressed as ever, in both his armour and his tux. The option at the start to choose the colour of your gadgets is certainly a frivolous one, but aren’t all choices in Telltale games more or less moot?

Troy Baker lays down a typically Troy Baker performance as Bruce Wayne while the rest of the cast does an admirable job. Richard McGonagle, as Carmine Falcone, steals the limelight in the first outing though as his buttery chords had me wanting more and more of the abrasive mob boss. The whole affair is supported by another very wonderful composition from Jared Emerson-Johnson that sounds quite inspired by Hans Zimmer’s work on Nolan’s trilogy.

Batman-GameplayTelltale have, in the past, been criticised for lack of gameplay innovation with each passing series. With Tales from the Borderlands, they took many steps in the right direction and they’ve continued on the same path with Batman. The game still consists mostly of dialogue choices – most insignificant, some heartrendingly tough – and the usual quick-time events to fill out the action. But it’s well known that Batman is the world’s greatest detective; eat your heart out, Sherlock.Batman-3The game capitalises on this largely under-utilised trait by allowing you, as Batman, to link together several items of evidence in an effort to recreate a suspicious crime scene using your keen eye and gadgets. It adds a little flavour to the boring old Telltale recipe and shines a light on yet another of Batman’s strengths. There’s also a similar sequence near the end of the episode that I won’t spoil, but it’s a cool idea implemented to make even the combat fresh again.Batman-ConclusionRealm of Shadows was a fairly timid first outing for billionaire playboy, Bruce Wayne, though the foundations laid in this first episode fill me with a lot of hope that this could be one of the best Telltale series yet.

It transcends the stock standard gameplay Telltale are often criticised for, and its dark nature is reminiscent of Telltale’s masterwork, The Wolf Among Us – certainly a promising comparison.

Detective element breathes life in gameplay.
Richard McGonagle is just great.
A great framework for the rest of the series.
Some signature Telltale tension thrown in.
A tad timid as far as premieres go.
Very minor stuttering, still a marked improvement.